The Sonoran Desert is perhaps the most brutal place in North America. The summer temperatures routinely hit 120 degrees, it only receives between 3-16 inches of rainfall annually, and it has HAIRY FUCKING SCORPIONS. It should come as no surprise then that Tuscon’s Gatecreeper, living on the outskirts of this sabulose nightmare, could create the sonic equivalent of slowly being crushed by a hunk of sandstone.
In their three years of existence Gatecreeper have been steadily releasing music including an EP and multiple splits (including one with Toilet favorites Take Over and Destroy), and with each release their songwriting chops have gotten just a bit stronger and their sound just a bit filthier. On their debut, Sonoran Depravation, they’ve really found their voice and have delivered on every sonic promise they’ve made in years past. Their influence is undeniably Swedish, but this isn’t just a retread of everything that came out in 1991. Hell, this isn’t even a retread of the sea of knockoffs we’ve seemingly been drowning in for the last several years. What Gatecreeper brings to us here is a step (maybe even two!) above what almost all swedeath influenced bands are doing today. The songs presented here are mostly short and sweet, bite-sized doses of jackhammer aggression wrapped in Dismember melodies.
The first aural heatwave comes in the form of lead single “Craving Flesh.” If you’re the kind of elitist bastard that judges an album based on its first riff then you’ll be giving Sonoran Depravation high marks, that opening riff offering the kind of sinister stomp that hasn’t been seen since Shawn Michaels kicked Marty Jannetty into oblivion. That “stomp” is the wheelhouse where this album lives, occasionally speeding up, but generally settling for slightly-souped-up segway. But, you know, if those things were sick and not just for assholes.
That very first riff, as wicked as it is, may not even be the best on the album, and let’s be honest: This kind of death metal lives and dies by its riffs. Gatecreeper have absolutely stuffed Sonoran Depravation to the gills with RIFFS. Those caps are no joke as these are some real winners, the kind that worm their way into your head like a carnivorous earwig and makes the back of your head their home. A personal favorite is the main riff of “Lost Forever,” featuring a grotesque swing that seems almost tailor-made for headbanging, windmilling or any/all pit activities. When they aren’t inciting a riot, Gatecreeper also dabble in sugar cookie sweet guitar melodies that will have even the hardest man humming along. Take the guitar line from “Desperation” for instance which, in all its brevity, still manages to soar and elevates the final 30 seconds of the song into a state of death metal euphoria. The entire album benefits from these moments as they help transform riffy bruisers into catchy, memorable cuts of death metal.
Sonoran Depravation is also an album helped by its brevity. Its run time is a brisk 33 minutes and change, and it feels just about perfect for this kind of music. That 33 minutes being spread across 9 different tracks certainly gives you plenty to chew on, especially considering the quality of each song, but it’s also just short enough to leave you wanting and coming back for more. That’s why we listen to death metal after all, isn’t it? To be hooked by the music like any number of faceless victims on a Cannibal Corpse cover. Gatecreeper does as good a job as anyone this year of sinking their hooks in deep.
In a year that has been absolutely stacked with death metal releases, Sonoran Depravation stands out from the crowd. Its superb blend of muscular riffs and disgusting melodies launches it over most of the pack, and in 2016 that’s no easy feat. Even if you find yourself burned out on the borderline absurd amount of Swedish style death metal that comes out in any given year, this album is worth the investment of both your time and money.